NEW HORIZONS BECKON
Brett Middleton moves on from MRT Performance after his ‘accidental’ success story
After more than 25 years at the helm of one of Australia’s premier performance automotive businesses, Brett Middleton has sold the business and moved on to new challenges.
Early last year, Brett and his wife Lisette sold the MRT Performance business to a new owner, but then continued as employees in a handover period.
Brett was born in Geelong in Victoria but moved to Sydney when he was 19 and has lived in North Ryde for the past 35 years.
After part-time jobs washing buses and delivering newspapers, Brett became a qualified design draftsman after completing an apprenticeship in Sydney, but deep down inside he always wanted to own a workshop, but never knew how to.
“At the end of my four-year apprenticeship I had a growing relationship with Daihatsu and that gave me the budget to build two G200 Charades and set up the Middleton Rally Team and later MRT Performance,” Brett says.
MRT Performance began life at Meadowbank as Middleton Rally Team in 1994 as a workshop to prepare Brett’s rally Daihatsu Charades, but it quickly became known amongst his fellow competitors as a top tuning shop and soon started trading as MRT Performance.
A contract with Daihatsu Australia to build and homologate the G200 model for the Japanese manufacturer globally was later followed with a Honda Civic team in 1996, all at the same time as Brett’s team was focused on running in the Australian Rally championship.
“That gave me the cash flow and confidence to rent the premises that I later bought,” Brett explains.
The shop became well known when it entered into a new unknown market, modifying Subaru WRXs, originally for fellow rally competitors and in 1998, Brett purchased his own STi.
In 2000 Brett pioneered the local introduction of Factory ECU tuning with an agreement with a UK friend that became EcuTek, now a global player in this popular market segment.
”I can remember people looking at me thinking I was stupid to want to tune a factory ECU back then, now it’s a huge market,” Brett says.
He believes MRT was one of the first to enter the online sales market globally, and at the same time MRT quickly became the name to choose for Modified Subaru parts and this expanded rapidly into the USA market with the first new sale of the 2001 WRX Model.
Brett recalls the “insane sales that often saw Australian suppliers thinking we were joking when orders were placed.” he says.
“We were DHL’s biggest airfreight client for several years; they were crazy times,” he says.
Over the following years, MRT represented top Australian names in the USA, such as DBA, Whiteline, GFB and many more.
MRT also became well known for Subaru work and its excellent product development as well as dyno tuning while developing great relationships with local manufacturers of non-OEM parts.
His tuning shop grew to a staff of 20 with an annual turnover of over $6m, following a move to a much larger facility in Rhodes during 2004. This lead to an increased focus on customer cars and parts sales via the Internet in Australia.
At the same time, sales in the USA peaked and distribution was handed over to much larger USA-based companies.
Along the way Brett lead MRT in a dynamic way, often challenging the trends, such as competing in the world’s first turbo diesel Subaru Forester and being the first to tune Subaru Factory ECUs. Along the way, he always had a simple philosophy in his work life.
“Do what you enjoy and the money will follow. I have never had a ‘job’ as I always enjoyed what I did and I got paid to do it!” he says.
He claims that for as long as he can remember he has loved cars and rallying.
“I grew up around cars. My father used to race at the Geelong sprints, and Sandown and Phillip Island and is a Western District Life member. He raced a Simca and later was the first to co-drive and rally a Datsun 1600 that his driver literally took off the car lot of his car sales yard in Geelong!” Brett explains.
He describes his best career decision as learning to modify factory ECUs back in 2000.
“The industry was all about removing the factory ECU and swapping in an aftermarket one. We were the first in Australia to start tuning the factory ECU in the Subaru WRX and this then progressed into a huge market, but at the start people thought we were crazy,” he says.
MRT grew in this segment to be the largest client (globally) of the brand EcuTeK.
However, not all decisions that Brett made in the 2000s were lucrative. He regrets knocking back an exclusive deal to sell a special (local) manufactured brand of part.
“I never got off my butt to sign the deal as I was so distracted by many other opportunities at the time. That company went on to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of those parts that we could have shared in! Brett laments.
The keen snow skier believes the key to his success is attitude.
“No matter how good your skill is, it is your attitude that creates opportunities. In fact, even if you have NO skills and a GREAT ‘can do’ attitude you will go places. But a highly skilled person with a poor attitude will always have limits!” he says.
Brett describes his best attributes as being ‘driven’ and ‘motivated.’
“I love sales and helping people; some people say I could sell ice to Eskimos” he laughs.
Brett is married to Lisette and they have three children, a 22-year-old daughter and two sons who are 18 and 20. He says his “amazing wife supports just about any challenge I aim for”.
Brett states that MRT’s current focus is local and workshop based.
“The AUD exchange currently makes it hard to grow sales overseas,” he says.
He believes that MRT’s competitive advantage is that it is “customer focused” and that it is not scared to share its knowledge.
“You need to be customer focused and listen to what they want; then do your best to deliver a reliable result that exceeds the clients expectations,” he says.
“Our YouTube Channel has millions of views and has hundreds of videos that people watch daily. Simply search ‘MRT’ and you will find thousands of web links.
“The YouTube channel has helped a lot. When we started people laughed at us. ‘Why share secrets? Why tell the people what they need to know?’ But it has helped grow the business enormously.”
He points out that on top of the standard business hurdles of the high costs of running a workshop in Sydney that MRT Performance, and the industry as a whole, faces an enormous challenge when it comes to maintaining quality trained auto technicians.
“The future reliable supply of quality staff is going to be critical to any automotive business. It’s sad that people under value quality mechanics and misunderstand the huge knowledge that they have and the training they do almost daily to stay up to date with the growing complexity of new model vehicles,” he says.
Brett now claims to have no time for retirement and will focus on business coaching, training and sales support.
For more information call Brett on 0408 261 043 or email Brett@Bretzet.com.au